I was visiting with my neighbor Bea in her home when she suddenly turned toward a table in the corner and said, “I want to show you something.”
Bea walked over to the table and picked up two large, clear plastic bags each containing a colorful quilt in them. “Look what I’ve been doing this winter!” she said, pulling the quilts out of the plastic and proudly draping them over her arm.
I was amazed at Bea’s quilts, their beauty, their crisp seams, and the colorful designs.
She told me one quilt was called “The Disappearing Four Patch.” She’d seen the pattern on a quilting TV program: “Fons and Porter’s Love of Quilting.” The other quilt was a collage of antique pink and yellow-themed blocks, and was sewn in a garden star pattern.
I marveled at Bea’s craftsmanship especially since I’m not a quilter myself, and left Bea’s house thinking about a book I read once, The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. The book was about a man who searched the world for the meaning of life. He eventually found his answer in India where he watched a woman weave a blanket. He thought this was our purpose: we’re each a colorful strand of thread making a contribution to some universal pattern. I was disappointed in the book’s conclusion. The book was a bear to read, and I was looking for something a bit more mystical.
Bea is not the type of person I see quilting. My image for that comes from my mother-in-law who was an excellent homemaker and spent years cooking and sewing for her family. Bea’s been a homemaker among other roles, but to me she’s never looked or acted like one. For example, I’ve never seen Bea wear a dress much less an apron. She seems most comfortable in an old T-shirt and jeans. Often I’ll see her in a pair of muck boots working in her half-acre yard moving irrigation pipes or firing up her tractor mower. She has short hair and brown, leathery skin, and she spent years weighing potato and grain trucks at a local farm scale house. Bea’s always been so practical, I just never knew she harbored so much creativity.
Who we are inside, our talents and thoughts, can be a big secret to the world.
We can be like Russian nesting dolls. Layers need to be uncovered before you actually find the core of us, and it’s only in how we express ourselves, what we make, do, or say that you catch a glimpse of our inner life. Sometimes that core can be surprising—and sometimes disappointing, even shocking. For example, Abraham Lincoln was described by opposition newspapers as “…the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms and hatchet-face ever strung upon a single frame…” Furthermore, these newspapers said Lincoln’s speeches were “illiterate compositions…interlarded with coarse and clumsy jokes…” (medium.com). On the other hand, Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was characterized as “… young, handsome, and well-dressed in a preppy kind of way (Quora.com).”
Appearances aren’t the only possible deception in the package of who we are.
I was struck by this fact watching the fall-out from the riot last week in Washington on television. NBC news reported that many of the participants were simply regular people, teachers and truck drivers, some even held jobs that contributed to public safety, like firemen and former police. The old axiom that you can never judge a book by its cover is amplified here. You can’t even judge a book by its plot or characters. You have to go deep to the theme, what animates the person. For my neighbor Bea, surprisingly, it’s quilts. For others, apparently, it’s something far more dark and angry.